Breaking the Silence: Domestic Violence Prevention and Awareness Advocates Shine a Light on Issue
10/25/23 | Altabanking Podcast Ep. 13
TRIGGER WARNING: The content below heavily discusses the issue of domestic violence and abuse. Some of the content may contain themes or material that some individuals may find distressing or emotionally challenging.
If you or someone you know is experiencing some form of domestic violence, please call the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Hotline at 800-799-7233.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which Altabank is supporting and recognizing as a core public issue. While domestic violence statistics in Utah are a bit lower than the national average, the issue of domestic violence, particularly against women, is still troubling to many. According to a paper published in March 2023 by the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah State University, one in three women in Utah will face some form of domestic violence in her lifetime.
For a special episode of Altabanking, host Stan Sorensen is joined by five community advocates of domestic violence awareness and prevention; Jill Anderson from CAPSA, Jillian Penhale from DOVE Center, Ashlee Taylor from The Refuge Utah, Lindsey Boyer from South Valley Services and Carol Earnshaw, a survivor of domestic abuse.
In this roundtable discussion, Stan and his panel of guests discuss the issues surrounding domestic violence including its many forms, some of its misconceptions and misnomers, and how to recognize, report, or prevent domestic violence.
When most think of domestic violence, they think of abuse of women by a partner, but there are a lot of different ways this can take place. What are the different forms that domestic abuse and domestic violence might take?
The default view that domestic abuse only involves physical violence is somewhat of a myth, according to Anderson.
“It really is based on someone’s intent to gain power and control over an individual,” she says.
Boyer adds that the word ‘violence’ can be misleading. She continues to explain that many times, a survivor may be so transfixed by that term, they may be unaware they’re experiencing other forms of abuse.
Another common misconception, according to Penhale, is that domestic violence or abuse is perpetrated by a man against a female partner. Abuse, she explains, can come in all shapes and sizes.
“Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone,” Penhale says. “Sure, statistically the highest number of victims we serve might be women, but we also serve men in our program as well. You can also have intimate partner violence for a couple that’s the same gender. It can happen in any relationship.”
For family and friends of a possible victim, how do we educate them to recognize signs of a potential problem? What can and should they do to offer support?
Through listening to survivors in focus groups, advocates have learned what victims find most helpful when receiving support from friends and family. Above all, Anderson shares, survivors of domestic violence or abuse say that patience is the key.
“The resounding answer was, ‘Stick with us,’ because leaving is not an event, it's a process,” Anderson says of feedback she’s received in these groups. “It takes time. And they ask family members to be patient. Stick with them, be supportive, and just be there with them through the process because it is a process.”
Earnshaw agrees, adding that on average it can take a survivor seven instances of leaving and then returning to an abusive partner before finally leaving for good. Boyer explains that the important concept here is to allow the victim to feel as if the decision to leave is completely and wholly theirs, as painful as it may be as a friend and family member of an abusee.
“If a survivor leaves on terms that are not their own, there’s a higher chance they're going to
be right back in the situation because there's so much fear and shame wrapped around it,” Boyer says.
It’s not as simple as just getting out, the advocates make clear. Learning to feel empowered and in control is vital to a survivor’s escape and future. This can be a process, not a singular moment in time. Still, it’s important to establish a safety plan, especially when a victim is leaving their partner and even immediately afterward, the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship.
What are some of the ways that a perpetrator might try to control their victim?
According to the panel, perpetrators usually seek to isolate and trap their victims in many ways. They may tightly control access to bank accounts or other finances. They could physically trap their victim at home by holding on to the car keys or even filling the gas tank only partially. They may also look to trap their victim emotionally or socially by cutting off their ability to reach out to loved ones.
Above all, it’s a mental manipulation by the perpetrator.
“I think it all starts right here in the mind,” Earnshaw says. “It starts with some form of mind control or manipulation or coercion or gaslighting, where they try to alter your reality. Your responses are not heard. They're turned and used against you. So I think that it starts there. And then once they can open the door, it continues and can go into all forms of violence.”
It’s not uncommon for children to be used as pawns in the mind game as well, with the threat of losing custody being head over a victim’s head. Gaining a sense of hopelessness, however cruelly or unfairly, is part of the goal of an abusive partner.
It seems like there’s a level of embarrassment or shame for those who need to reach out and seek help. How difficult is it to leave that situation?
Physical violence is much easier to spot than intangible abuse, advocates agree. The average person might not be able to see if someone close to them is being psychologically, spiritually, or emotionally abused.
Sharing that they suffer abuse from a partner can be terrifying for a victim, Boyer explains. That’s why it’s so important for a person who does come forward to feel heard and able to share more as they move through their escape process.
“Inside that relationship, you don't know what's going on,” says Boyer. “Start by believing the survivor and make sure that they know that they're supported and that they have a safe place to be able to tell their story so that then hopefully they can get help.”
How can an employer recognize that there might be issues and how can they be supportive?
Just as family and friends may not easily recognize a victim’s struggles, the same could be true for employers. Some telltale signs, however, may lead to a realization. An employee who’s missing emails or phone calls or showing up late or disheveled could be experiencing a turbulent home life away from work.
Employers as well as supervisors and managers can greatly benefit from training to recognize an issue at home among their employees. Practically speaking, employers need to be aware of any protective orders an employee has filed against their abuser.
“We try and teach managers and businesses how they can identify that in their employees, how they can approach it. Asking the questions, ‘Are you okay? Are you safe at home?’ And then how do they respond,” Anderson says. “If the answer is, ‘No, I'm not,’ that can be scary for an employee or a manager. And we teach them how they can respond to that.”
In addition to training, advocates also recommend employers work to create an environment where scary and difficult conversations can be had and heard with concern and a sense of safety. While it may feel like troubles at home should be left outside of work, for some victims, a work colleague or trusted leader may be their most trusted form of support. The traditional thinking that work and home life should be separated needs to be broken. It’s not taboo to check in on an employee’s overall well-being, the advocates agree in union.
“If you do have an employee or coworker that you're concerned about, trust your gut and be bold enough to ask them if they're okay,” Penhale says. “They may not tell you what's happening in that first interaction, but by starting to create that place of safety and continuing to check in with them, they might open up eventually.”
What is the work being done to provide affordable, safe housing to survivors of domestic violence?
For many victims of domestic violence, the fear of having to fend for themselves and face a daunting housing challenge may be what traps them in a harmful relationship.
The fear isn’t unfounded.
“Domestic violence is [a primary] cause of homelessness,” Boyer says. “If they can have some safe, stable place to be, then they can start working on all of the other pieces to be able to put their lives back where they want it to be.”
The panelists agree that housing is a major issue in the fight against domestic violence. While there are programs in place to support those who need to find a new housing arrangement or work with their landlord to avoid eviction, it’s still a major obstacle for many. For some, reaching a shelter and transitioning into independence and then eventually permanent housing is an ongoing process. These shelters and transitional housing centers can also provide additional support in dealing with trauma and finding employment.
“There are so many different pieces to that journey,” Boyer says. “And the longer we can keep survivors engaged with that support system in that process, the better chance that those bricks of stability are building together for a solid foundation.”
Recovery can be a lifelong journey. Why is dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence and abuse an extended process?
Physical injuries can heal, but the inner trauma that results from domestic abuse can be much deeper and more complex to heal, the panelists sympathize.
“It's not just from moving from a dangerous situation and then boom, you're home free,” Boyer says. “But there’s a recovery from that and learning how to process things, process the trauma that you went through, and understand what that did to your brain, all those different intricacies that really happened with domestic abuse, and how to be able to move forward from that.”
Domestic violence doesn’t just happen to fully grown adults. What about college and high school students who are just starting to get into dating?
According to Taylor, one of the board members at The Refuge Utah and also a survivor, began dating her abuser in high school. Looking back now, the woman has said there were warning signs early on that eventually developed into an abusive situation. That’s why educating young people on domestic abuse and violence is so important, Taylor explains.
“By learning at a young age about healthy relationships and what that looks like, or safe dating technique…you can seek out healthy relationships and try to avoid some of those red flags, especially if they haven't had healthy relationships exhibited in their home—that's all they've seen and don't know what the signs of a healthy relationship versus an unhealthy relationship are,” Taylor says.
It's especially crucial for teenagers, according to Boyer. Advocates working on early prevention and education are trying to bring the conservation to social media. Teaching a young person who is early in their dating life about what is and isn’t a healthy relationship can alter the trajectory of their future.
“We got to be where they're at in order to get them the information we know they need,” Boyer says. “I think that's a really big piece… and that's a prime opportunity to shift the course.”
What do we say to parents and school administrators to make this an acceptable topic to discuss?
Topics like sex ed can make parents and educators unsure of how best to proceed. Domestic abuse, however, shouldn’t make anyone queasy.
“It’s OK to have this conversation without having to talk about sex because we’re talking about boundaries,” Boyer says.
Preventing abuse is really about setting boundaries and holding others and yourself to them. These skills can also apply anywhere exploitation can exist; at work, with a roommate, with friends, etc.
Educating and fostering these skills and the ability to recognize abuse can make a big difference in empowering youth before they’re off on their own.
Carol, as a survivor, what have you learned about yourself in your recovery experience?
“I think first and foremost, it is a long process, but trusting myself and believing myself and being able to like, trust my body signals. I know that that seems so simple but when I started, I didn't know where I felt stress or anything, I was so disassociated from my body.
And taking ownership of who I am who I can be and who I always was. I remember one time my mom told me, she goes, ‘Carol, you've always been strong.’
I think many survivors just have so much shame. ‘Why didn't I know? Why didn't I do this?’ How did how did I let this happen? And, you know, we can't go back in time. We can't change anything. The only thing we can do is go forward. I would say that’s where my real growth has taken place. You know, I actually worked with South Valley Services first as a supporter and fundraiser, but then I actually had an incident where I actually asked them for help and did some trauma therapy with them because, as you said, it's an ongoing process. Finally getting to the root of some of the reasons why I do the things I do and really seeing myself and seeing who I really am has made all the difference.
These organizations are there to empower men, women, children, and whoever is affected. I've been able to accomplish some incredible things, not on my own, but because I've asked for help, I've sought mentorship and different therapies and resources. I know it's up to me, I'm in charge of my own healing, and it's no one else's responsibility.
I'm going to have highs and lows, but I can't give up because I don't feel like it's just me I'm working for and fighting for. I have so many friends, family, community members, neighbors [struggling with abuse], it’s such a common issue. And the more you shed that shame and you're just like, ‘This is what it is. These things happened, they didn't happen to me. They happened.’ [You can] change your story and the future.
I remember a friend just saying, ‘You can do anything,’ and I never felt like that…I felt like I had to have permission for everything…I felt like I was in this box and had such tight parameters around me. [But] you have permission. I feel like I have permission to completely take control of my life and my future and my children and to really be a voice for all survivors.” - Carol Earnshaw
If you or someone you know is experiencing some form of domestic violence, please call the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Hotline at 800-799-7233.
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